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Special Reports

MA 30 The Innovators: Christian Thompson

December 6, 2016 | By John Fleming

Director of Artistic Planning, Orchestre National de Lyon
Director, Verbier Festival Academy

For 12 years, Christian Thompson was director of the Academy at the Verbier Festival, which brings elite young musicians to a village in the Swiss Alps to perform with and learn from world-renowned partists. The 23rd annual festival last summer featured a starry artist roster that ranged from Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Mahler to Bryn Terfel singing Falstaff to Musical America 2017 Artist of the Year Yuja Wang giving a recital of Brahms, Schumann, and Beethoven.

Under Thompson’s direction, the Academy has mentored scores of musicians who have gone on to major solo careers. Perhaps his proudest innovation is a program called Reaching Out that he created for alumni of the festival’s learning programs. It is designed to help young musicians develop the skills to broaden the reach of classical music.

“The one thing I really feel is important for the future is young musicians learning how to create events and be entrepreneurs and be creative outside the concert hall,” Thompson says. “We have young musicians who are learning how to fundraise, how to talk from the stage, how to be a resource in their communities. How to dream up events so that they can find new publics and get people excited about live music.”

Thompson regards achieving the goals of Reaching Out as urgent. “The problem is that live music is a secret that’s not shared widely enough,” he says. “Audiences are getting older and we have to find a way for younger people and different parts of society to understand what it means to share live music.”

In September, Thompson stepped down as director of the Academy to work full-time at the Orchestre National de Lyon, where he has been artistic advisor since 2014. His successor at the Verbier Festival is Stephen McHolm, former artistic director of the Honens International Piano Competition.


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